After the Election

It’s two weeks tomorrow since the UK General Election which saw Theresa May’s hopes of domination crumble into dust. Today was a shorter than short State Opening of Parliament with the Queen in her Ascot gear, eschewing the robes and crown.

She delivered a speech shorn of some of the nastiest proposals by the Tory party, though Brexit dominated and although some people are making hopeful noises that it may not, in the end, happen, I’m not holding my breath.

It was the defeat of Mrs May’s dreams that my cousin Russell and I celebrated on 9th June, a day we had planned to spend far from news and celebrating Tory voters, hoping walking and nature would be a balm to our European, Green voting souls. i have already written of our gleeful grins, of our alcohol consumption that lunchtime during a scrumptious meal where we toasted the many, not the few, but I have not got around to posting pictures.

This first might give you an idea of our route.

Give me a sign

On the other hand, it may not. Continue reading

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Unconditional Love

I spent yesterday with Nephew, his partner and their baby. We walked and talked and ate, cooed over the baby, talked about dogs we’d like to have, cooed over the baby again, talked about love. The usual. Quite a lot of people talk about their pets giving them unconditional love as though that is a rare and wonderful thing. It’s definitely wonderful, but I should hope that the humans getting a pet are also giving unconditional love, and that parents would not have children with the love conditional on their exam results/looks/sporting achievement or whatever.

Among some papers I was sorting last week I found this photograph. Continue reading

In Mother’s Footsteps

So here’s the plan: reach Birmingham by eleven, find the tourist information office for a map and find out how far away the hospital is; look for a (self) guided walking tour; visit the museum to see the Staffordshire Hoard; return London by the afternoon train.
Of course it may not work out like that. Maybe I’ll have jettisoned this plan by the time I leave the station, and instead allow my nose to lead me, and wander the city’s streets and squares.

My return to the Midlands just over a week since the sortie to Coventry is thanks to some special offers on trains which Viv of the book group circulated. I shan’t have a lot of time, hence the plan.

You might be thinking I am going to visit someone in hospital. No, I’m not. It’s the buildings I want to see; specifically the older buildings, the ones that were there on the 1940s when Mother arrived to take an entrance exam that would allow her to train as a nurse. I understand that part of the hospital was originally the workhouse, and that there is an archway, unlisted that is threatened with demolition. Maybe it has already gone.

We never visited Birmingham. Although Mother had many fond memories, I don’t know that she ever returned. The closest I have been is a ride around Spaghetti Junction enough route to somewhere I don’t recall when I was a teenager. Continue reading

A Change of Plan

I'm enjoying a cup of coffee in the Linen Hall Library where Fiona and arranged to meet. But I am alone. Moments after leaving Cousin I found a message on my 'phone saying that Jake, the family Westie whose arrival in the McSpec household a few years ago when he was adopted by them brought such joy, is seriously ill and Fiona was dashing to the vet with him. Ominously, she said she did not expect to be bringing him home. I do hope she's wrong, and that Jake, whose health has not been great, can be put on the road to recovery and exerting his grumpy charms again. I have never met him, but he sounds a great wee character, and the Internet has secured him fans beyond his home.

 

The death of a pet is always hard, the anticipated death equally so. Those awful heart lurching moments of mixed fear, love and anxiety; dreading the vet's verdict even as you hope for a miracle. When we came back from Homeplace last night we watched the second part of The Secret Life of Dogs. For any of you reading this who struggle to understand friends' and neighbours' love and respect for their pets, do watch it, as you may begin to get an inkling of what immensely rich and wonderful relationships you are missing.

Continue reading

Saturday

Day five of my holiday (or four if you don’t count Tuesday which was when I travelled) and this is my first post. I am sitting on a warm bus heading into Belfast and just beyond to visit Uncle Bill and his wife, and to go out to lunch with them and their elder son. I’m armed with a book for my uncle, chocolates for my aunt, and nothing for my cousin.

I have my ‘phone and its charger as since Monday the battery has starting running down very rapidly. I hope there is a power point on the bus home, or I may not be able to tell Cousin I am back at Toomebridge, and the walk to her house in the dark is not something I should like to attempt.

In contrast with my journey from London to Belfast n the summer, this time the ‘plane was half empty and we arrived twenty minutes ahead of schedule. It was still early afternoon, so we reached Cousin’s in daylight where I was greeted by Westie Boy and made Westie Puppy’s acquaintance. She belongs to one of Cousin’s daughters, and is a temporary resident while her toilet training is completed. She’s a rough and tumble scruff at the minute, and it’s hard to imagine her as a townie sophisticate in Belfast, sitting primly by her owners while they enjoy a cup of coffee in the city. Though she does love to sit beside you, to lie on your feet, so that bit will be fine, but I think we’ll have to get her used to the brush before her first public appearances. Continue reading

Lost on the Surrey/Sussex Borders

So far 2017 seems to be The Year of Not Blogging, but hopefully that will change. It is also the year when language comes under fresh assaults from people who call lies alternative truths.

But let’s draw a veil over the last few days and think of something else, something that reminds me why the world is somewhere I still enjoy, and why I think it’s worth fighting to protect.

As I said in my last post over a week ago, Celia and I went on a ramble and as it was the anniversary of Aunt’s death, we thought we could call it Auntie Mary’s Walk. Just one problem: we’re not entirely sure where we went. Celia and I have yet to go on a ramble where we don’t get lost.

At this point I’m pretty sure we were on the right track.

Hedgehog Lane

Hedgehog Lane

Postbox and Black Cat

Postbox and Black Cat

This wasn’t the route we were following, but it ran alongside ours for a while.

Fancy a Pint?

Fancy a Pint?

In retrospect, perhaps we should have followed it, as we never did reach the pub. As the pubs we have planned to eat at in the past have invariably been closed or no longer serving food, lunch has been the point where we have deviated from our planned route and ended up somewhere we did not expect to be. This time, although Celia called the pub and confirmed they were indeed still open and sold hot meals, I announced that given our track record, I intended to take soup with me. It was this (deserved) lack of faith that prompted Celia to go to Stanfords and buy a map. Though she did bring sandwiches.

We got lost quite early on, but were rescued by a woman walking a rather lovely Golden Retriever called Bingo. Naturally I do not know the woman’s name. She set us on the right direction and off we went. Given that we passed most of the things she told us to look out for, I don’t understand how we found ourselves at the wrong end of the map.

However by that time we had been thoroughly enjoying ourselves. The fields and ditches were covered in a dusting of snow.

A Dusting of Snow

A Dusting of Snow

Continue reading

Talking ‘Bout a Resolution

A New Year. Time for resolutions. So. Number one was decided back in Melbourne, to explore some of the South London suburbs on my doorstep. One of these days I plan to move, and as my own neighbourhood is fast becoming too expensive for me, these explorations may well inform where I live out the rest of my life. Some people love moving house. I don’t. If possible my next move will be my last. And when you consider I have lived at my current address for thirty years, that doesn’t seem impossible.

Number two: to find out when is the best time to visit New Zealand and where to enjoy extensive but not too demanding walking. I have been thinking of 2018 as my date for New Zealand, and now it is 2017 I could be booking a flight quite soon. Very exciting. Unless of course I decide to move house sooner rather than later, in which case NZ will probably have to wait. Encouragingly and excitingly my two friends in NZ have responded positively to my proto plans to visit their country.

Number three: I used to be a slim person. My hip bones preceded me into rooms. Now my belly does. I avoid mirrors, but some recent photographs have shown me I am twice the woman I was not so very long ago. So, and I am still undecided about this, shall it be WeightWatchers, or something else? Jeannette Winterson wrote so persuasively about fasting I am tempted to shell out for a week of starvation in the hope that I shall see the light and find it is not the one that comes on when I open the fridge door. So number three is something to do with health, and hopefully rediscovering my hip bones. Continue reading

In the Bosom of My Family

More a comment than a post tonight, and no added pictures as it's late and I am likely to be woken earlier rather than later by some junior members of the family. My cousin, correctly first cousin once removed, collected me from the very lovely Alison and Bruce this morning. There was a certain amount of chat as both Victoria (my cousin) and Bruce are actuaries and realised very quickly they knew people in common. I love these connections, the invisible skeins that join us.

Victoria drove across Sydney to her home and we caught up on family stuff and news. None good about her cousin Tom who is still in a bad way. I last met her husband at their wedding, and although I have seen many pictures of her children, today was the first time we met. The older daughter reminds me of my cousin, her great aunt, Mary. The younger is like her father. Both girls were wet, having enjoyed the narrow swimming pool beside the house.

Remembering how I used to do the Sperrins Hill Walking Festival when I stayed with her parents, Victoria had a walk planned for us. I'd had a look at it and it seemed to involve a bit of up and down. Are there many steps, I asked. My knees get quite distressed by steps. She didn't think so. In the heat of the day we set off. There were steps quite near the beginning, then some more a short way in, and more a bit further along. It quickly became apparent that this is a Walk With Many Steps. My knees began to mutter, then to groan, then to mutiny. Fortunately we reached a stepless part before they gave up. I was expecting to feel pain by tonight, but am relieved to say I can still climb the stairs without wincing. Naturally I have done my stretches.

Continue reading

Of Trains, Boats, Brexit, Bombing and Neanderthal Attitudes

My short ride to the mainline station turned into a slow crawl across the capital. In theory, taking a train should have meant a fourteen minute journey that circumvented the clogged roads at rush hour. The driver kept as informed with a practised and resigned calm; red lights delaying our arrival at Blackfriars; a train ahead with technical problems preventing us from reaching Farringdon. I had expected to have time to kill at King’s Cross, maybe buy a coffee, admire the roof for the nth time. Instead I raced over the road from St Pancras International, found my train on the departure board, wove through the crowds and made it with just two minutes to spare.

Older Nephew is meeting me I hope at Cambridge station. We’re off to winterise das Boot, which means going to the pump out at Ely and probably lunching in a pub there, returning to the marina, emptying the water tank and adding anti-freeze to the engine. I’m hoping it’s more relaxing than the first part of the journey.

We shall doubtless talk Brexit and Trump. Now, most of you will be aware that there was a referendum in June over whether to stay in or leave the EU. I, like 48% of those who voted, wanted to remain. The question was a simple stay or leave. But somehow the government led by the redoubtable Theresa May, has decided that parliament should have no say in the niceties of how we leave the EU, what our leavetaking should be. No, she says, there will not be a discussion along the way, The Country Has Spoken and we must respect that decision. OK, fair enough, it was a slender majority, but it was a majority and much as I should prefer to remain an EU citizen to the end of my days, I reluctantly accept that is not to be. But people did not vote on immigration. Or if they did, they were answering a different question to the one asked. They did not vote on remaining in or out if the single market; on freedom of movement or pan-European health care. Some people will have voted so the 350 million pounds claimed by the leave campaign could go to our beleaguered and beloved NHS. Funny how that money does not seem to play any part in the post Brexit world. Instead leading Conservatives are talking about stopping foreigners taking ‘our’ jobs. The proposal by Amber Rudd that businesses should report on how many foreign passport holders work for them was roundly denounced and dropped amid assurances that we had misunderstood. The fact that this was background to my reading of The Hare With Amber Eyes made it all the more sinister for me. If you don’t know the book I urge you to read it. Aunt Nessa, who died nearly two years ago, sent it to me and it has sat on my shelves until now, a little bit of unsuspected golden treasure. It’s a memoir by Edmund de Waal, a ceramicist based in London. He is descended from a banking family. A Jewish banking family. The hare in the title is a netsuke, one of a collection made by his ancestor Charles Ephrussi in the nineteenth century. Continue reading

Of Vitamin Paste for Cats, Family News, Brexit (again), GBBO, and the Absence of Ethics

A quickie post as I am off to enjoy supper with Octavia shortly. We usually eat together on a Sunday and catch up with some of each other’s news. it’s always chez Octavia as she has more room than I do, so I get to catch up with the Grey Ninja too. Tonight I shall be taking the said ninja some cat vitamin paste,. I got it with the reward points I have accumulated on the one of the sites where I buy MasterB’s food. It is supposed to prevent hairballs, something I have yet to see MasterB produce, and which the Grey Ninja, being a breed (Russian Blue – her pedigree name rivals that of the Tsar) that barely sheds, is unlikely to suffer with.

The blurb said it was a taste no cat could resist and recommended it for when you have to medicate your pet. Great I thought, that should make the worming tablet less traumatic all round. But MasterB finds it all to easy to resist. I put a centimetre or so on a saucer for him as a treat. It’s still there twenty-four hours later, loooking like a short, rather fat, slug. Maybe the GN will find it more to her taste.

I became a great aunt, which was very exciting. I received an ecstatic text from Nephew who is obviously a very thrilled parent. Pictures followed, including, finally, one of his daughter with her eyes open. This good news has been tempered by news that the eldest son of my cousin Tom, also called Tom, is in a coma following a cardiac arrest. Cousin is keeping me in the loop, but they have been warned there will be brain damage. He’s forty-one, married with two little girls. Though I am not religious, I went into a church yesterday and filled in a card asking the congregation to pray for him. These are the moments when you feel utterly powerless, and prayer is the one thing you can offer.

Bake Off continued and one of my favourite bakers left the tent. Don’t worry Nadbugs, I shan’t tell you who it was. The shocking news that GBBO is to leave the BBC for Channel 4 has been a welcome distraction from what isn’t so far happening with Brexit. Some days I can almost convince myself it won’t happen at all. Then Theresa May goes and announces that Article 52 will be triggered by March 2017. My heart sinks to my boots. Does the Prime Minister and her Cabinet have a plan? If so, they have communicated precious little about it to the British electorate. BoJo said something the other day that was immediately contradicted by Number 10 – a nice example of a metonym I am sure Octavia will agree – so I just hope Armando Iannucci, Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton are sitting with sharpened pencils ready to satirise the whole thing and keep me off the anti-depressants. Continue reading